Camera Angles and Gimmicks

The NHL often uses the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game to try out a few gimmicks and changes to the game.  With the 2011 Winter Classic in the past and the 2011 All-Star Game coming up, we figured this would be a good chance to take a look at how the game of hockey is presented on television and whether or not anything needs to be changed.

The Winter Classic gives the NHL the opportunity to use a skycam (an aerial camera) that isn’t available in most traditional NHL arenas.  You can see the skycam in action in the video about (at about the 1 minute mark.)  While the view from the skycam is unique and allows you to see plays developing, it also makes the players and the puck look very, very small.  It’s almost impossible to see any details, even with a large HDTV.  As Chris DeVivo of BackTeching points out, using the aerial camera incorrectly can make following the game confusing for viewers.

Perhaps this sort of technology is best left for replays.

That holds true for many different camera angles.  While it’s helpful to see the play from different viewpoints, switching cameras too often is distracting for the viewer.  If the camera is too far away from the action, you lose most of the detail.  However, if the camera is zoomed in too tightly or focused on only a small section of the ice, the viewer isn’t able to see the context of the game.  The same problem is present with the “behind-the net” cam that many TV stations use during power plays.   It’s difficult to see any sense of depth from that camera.

A major issue is that hockey is a fast-moving sport.  Zooming in on the puck carrier can allow you to see what he’s doing, but he could quickly pass the puck across the ice and it would disappear from the camera’s field of vision.  The Dallas Stars have experimented with an overhead camera during games and, as you can see from the clip below, they used it mostly to show replays:

You really get a sense of the game from that camera, but watching an entire broadcast like that would be nauseating and confusing.  The Stars were also the first team to use a rail cam during a game.  The rail cam is attached to the top of the glass and it slides along the glass during the play.  It certainly allows the camera to be much closer to the action.

This camera angle allows you to see the action without the crowd and the glass getting in the way.  It was also used during the 2007 NHL All-Star Game, but it doesn’t seem like it’s been utilized since.  We could see it possibly being distracting for the fans in the arena.

The 2009 All-Star Game featured a camera operator standing on the ice during the “Breakaway Challenge.”

While that would never work during an actual game or a shootout, it was a different viewpoint that the league experimented with.

Of course, one of the most controversial attempts to change the way hockey is presented on television was the FoxTrax puck.  It made its debut at the 1996 All-Star Game and… well… look at the video:

Thankfully that didn’t catch on.  NBC used something similar during replays in the Stanley Cup Final a few years ago.

That clip shows us that, much like the different camera angles, gimmicks and new technology are best used for replays.

The latest innovation in hockey coverage is broadcasting in 3D.  Both CBC and MSG Network have put on 3D broadcasts to relatively favourable reviews.

We’re not sure if the league or the networks are going to try out any new technology during this year’s All-Star Game, but it makes sense that they do.  The game doesn’t mean anything and it’s produced entirely for television, so why not give the TV audience a chance to see something new?

Just don’t overdo it.  Maybe just stick to replays.